It's Not Okay

The moment I came to terms with what happened, a few days after the fact, I knew I wanted to write about it. Eventually. After the dust settled in my head, and in my being. I figured after "dealing with it", I'd be better equipped to reflect on the experience and put into writing how it affected me and what we can do to prevent others from being affected. 

The dust hasn't settled, and having learned from speaking with a few victims, it likely won't settle anytime soon. But I'm still going to write about it:

A couple of weeks ago, I was raped. Typing that word, after experiencing it first-hand, is difficult all on its own. (I am still unable to verbalize it.) It's embarrassing and it's uncomfortable. It's a feeling of: I know it was wrong, and I know something must be done, but's my problem and I have to deal with it. 

But the better part of me knows: it's not just my problem, and it's not just something I have to "deal with." And it's not okay. 

It's not okay to shy away from an act of violence because playing victim and being victim share an equally detrimental stigma. It's not okay to justify said act of violence by retracing my own steps and assessing my own behavior that night. Or my wardrobe. Or my bouts of flirtation. 

It's not okay to let a playful "no", within seconds, become a stern "no." It's not okay to force another person down against their will, yank their bloody tampon out of them and onto the floor and proceed to penetrate her without question. 

It's not okay.

And it's uncomfortable, I know. I didn't spare the grimy details for that reason. We need to get uncomfortable and face the issue head on. Because it's not right and we somehow cultivated this culture where rape has become the embodiment of "it's not right, but it's okay" – thanks for the anthem, Whitney, but I think we took this one out of context. 

When this first happened, I refused to ascribe that word to the actual event. "No," I thought, "he's a friend of one of my best friends. We're staying at his place, and we were flirting toward the end of the night. It wasn't a stranger in a dark alleyway. And he's not that type of guy, anyway. There is nothing violent about him."

Only there was, whether or not I'm ever, truly, going to believe that. 

Maybe it's the way we learn about rape, the phrasing we use: violence, abuse, etc. Our minds automatically envision that dark alleyway with a stranger like some sort of reference point; our minds automatically envision the worst case scenario. But the extremes aren't the only standards for rape; it exists and lives much closer to us than we know: in our homes, our schools, our local watering holes.

And no, not even in the establishments where sex-saturated atmospheres encircle social settings, is rape okay. Just because it seems less violent than your benchmarked notions does not make it is any less of a crime. An alleyway, a bar bathroom, the [dis]comfort of a home – rape is rape. And it's just as emotionally, physically, and psychologically scarring. And it's simply not okay. 

But I'm not writing this to talk about my experience alone. I can easily go into the personal battles it provoked, the activation of since-dormant mental maladies, and so on. But that's a separate post. I have an agenda here: 

We need to start to understand rape for what it is and stop minimizing it for what it's not. It's not a women's issue. And as compelling of an argument Jackson Katz makes (a video I HIGHLY recommend watching as a first step in understanding the problem), it's not a men's issue either. It's a human issue. 

Those who know me well know that I am a big advocate for gender equality and breaking disparities where they need not exist. Rape and "rape culture", a term nestled under "feminist theory", are harmful due largely to the fact that they are fought against in isolated battles from opposite sides of the spectrum, and are not approached from common grounds. 

Men are not the problem, women are not the problem; I don't care who wore what or who did what. I care about why. I care about why the rapist raped. And it's never because of the victim. It's because somewhere down the line, the rapist learned that it was okay; that that is how one assumes control. And that, I feel, is the real issue: control. 

I later learned that the guy who raped me was sexually abused in his past as well. By an older man. So what argument or justification can one make in light of that information? The issue is gender fluid – it does not adhere or take a liking to any one side. It is, instead, a matter of control. My rapist was stripped of control in his past by being abused; he regained it by taking the control away from me. I can count on his abuser facing the same predicament earlier in his life. 

Somewhere, some time ago, someone lacked either the means, intellect or charm to obtain power, so s/he shamelessly seized it by raping another. And it has snowballed and spread and infiltrated homes, families and social networks to not only become a commonality, but a trivialized crime. And we can't seem to put an end to it because we're running in circles blaming genders and pointing fingers at matters accompanying sex (who wore what, who flirted with whom, etc.) instead of the actual, non-consensual, sex itself. And it's not okay. 

I mentioned this in a post early last winter: to fight an issue and even hope to come out the other side, you need to first successfully identity the problem. I am no sociologist. I have not studied rape and its long-term effects on societies and cultures. But I, like so many of us, understand that it's simply not okay. No questions. No justifications: it does not need to exist. And we all need to start educating ourselves, our peers, and our children about what it actually is: a despicable crime to gain/regain control. It is not the result of drinking too much at the club. It is not the consequence for showing too much cleavage. It's a vile act not assigned, or immune, to any one gender. It's something done to hurt and to bruise and to satisfy a need that has no roots in sex itself. 

No one deserves this, and I pray that neither my friends nor my children ever have to experience this. And I'll do what I can, starting with this post, to try and help foster a culture where the collective accord is just this:

It's not okay. 

Kathy Poloself3 Comments